In Heide Hatry’s photograph Spisulae solidissimae tonsae rubrae, what appears to be a red rose sprouts from a thorny green stem. But on closer inspection the petals have a spongy texture, and a Google search reveals that the Latin title denotes another being entirely: a clam. How the creature came together (or came apart) to imitate a rose, Hatry leaves a mystery.
Such is the conceit of her collaborative book Not a Rose, published by Charta, featuring 81 images of faux flowers assembled from the sexual organs, offal, and other parts of animals. More than 100 authors, working in fields as diverse as art history and neuroscience, contribute texts ranging from scholarly essays to poems to accompany the grotesque, beautiful images. (A selection of the photos will also appear in Hatry’s exhibition “Not A Rose,” opening May 23 at Stux Gallery in New York.)
“We want to be seduced by beauty, to permit difficult questions to linger unasked, hidden behind its veil,” Hatry writes in her introduction. “In wanting to lift the veil, I don’t wish to sound like I’m antagonistic to beauty—far from it—but the dispiriting fact is that beauty is not truth after all.”
The New York–based German artist has long worked with animal flesh and organs as artistic materials to address such issues as aging, gender roles, the environment, and appearance versus reality. This latest series, Hatry writes, began with a simple question: “Why do flowers exert such a strong and immediate emotional impact on us?” The resulting compositions are highly complex in both craft and concept.
Some images completely fool the viewer. In one, a hanging fuchsia stem bears lavender snapdragon flowers; its convoluted Latin name, Partes paecordiarum multarum concharum, translates to “many parts of a shellfish.” Plica vocalis gallinae, a tropical pink bloom, appears in sensual close-up to reveal the flower’s sex parts (made of a hen’s vocal folds).
Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer contributes a short reflection titled “Eating Animals.” “The problem posed by meat has become an abstract one,” he writes, noting how industrial farming and slaughtering have replaced the singular beauty of acknowledging an animal’s life. “Cruelty,” he adds, “prefers abstraction.” Literary-world luminaries Rick Moody, Siri Hustvedt, and Jonathan Ames also weigh in, as do art-world veterans such as Carolee Schneemann and Anthony Haden-Guest.
“Hatry has grown these Flowers in that No Mans Land between terror and desire,” Haden-Guest writes, “which is a hairy, scary but by no means unpromising place for the growth and cultivation of art.” On the opposite page, a fuzzy, milky-colored creation—looking more orifice than artifice—illustrates his point.